Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"Collage Students," Part III: The case for determining What Matters

I had thought I was done with the the "collage students" posts for the moment--at least till the spring; but in reading the passage below, I realized that it would be useful to make (much) more explicit the stakes, as I see them, in working toward getting students to think, really think, about what they know, the value they assign to what they know, and how what they know connects to other people's "collages"--what I might be calling "knowledge grids" from now on, thought comments are welcome regarding these terms.

The first two posts in this series, here and here, talked about what I've observed about my students' often self-imposed but certainly existentially-felt disconnectedness from the world--paradoxical, no, in this age when we've never been more technologically interconnected--and a possible strategy for beginning to reconnect them. What I like about this passage is that it pushes beyond where I'd stopped--knowledge--and moves to something of greater value for not just my students here and now but on down the road, when they'll be making decisions on whether to pull us old geezers' various literal and figurative plugs--not to mention those of other nations, cultures, religions:

We democrats can see the dangers of monarchy and fascism with some clarity. We understand the dangers of democracy less well. A democracy which exists with the Faustian space of the modern world and has thereby lost any sense of the modes of being and levels of knowing can no longer know either what a person is or what wisdom is. We have been taught that knowledge will make us free. But at the same time, we have come to confuse knowledge with wisdom, to believe that all knowledge is equally valuable, that anything we can do we should do, and that by making all knowledge available to everyone, our problems will be solved. The metaphysical perspective that gives priority to facts is blind to persons. There is a fine line between the repressions of individuality by totalitarian regimes (or totalizing discourses) and its evaporation into nihilism through the triumph of relativism, spiritual confusion, and the domination of the dis-Oriented.

--Tom Cheetham, The World Turned Inside Out, 110-111.

A little reflection on this passage reveals a richness that deserves further exploration. That will come.

(Hat-tip: Clusterflock)


Anonymous said...

Woah, Tom uses the term "modes of being." Shall I put on my philosophy hat?

The loss of wisdom is, indeed, tragic. I tend to avoid conversations about vast, general topics just because its hard to say anything intelligent about them, but Tom has a great point here. I am inspired to seek some wisdom to compensate for my culture's lack thereof. I wonder if Solomon has switched to Beta yet?

R. Sherman said...

Alright. Now, that I'm back but before I can get to part 2, you throw part 3 at me.

You've got to give those of us in back a chance to get our thoughts in order!



John B. said...

Thanks to both of you for commenting.

Camille, I don't know if wisdom is "lost," exactly--I think it's more like, because our (pop) cultural collective unconscious has become more temporal in its awareness, as perfectly encapsulated in a line from Clueless (I believe), "That's so five minutes ago."

Solomon once resolved a child-custody dispute by not choosing but, um, compelling the disputing parties to choose. I think that's how he solved the VHS vs. Beta dilemma for us, and I do wish he'd hurry up and figure out (for me) whether I need to buy a Blu-Ray DVD player. I think the blogging-platform question is a tougher nut to crack, though.

Randall, No hurries and no worries. You and yours have had to decide what furniture to burn for warmth, which ranks a bit higher on Maslow's hierarchy than reading blog posts.

Winston said...

You're right in that this is a wonderfully rich passage. I eagerly await your follow-up. And perhaps I need to find time to read the entire book.

Not sure why, but the following query surfaced while I was reading this: Does knowledge imply truth? How about wisdom? Or are these entirely different concepts?

John B. said...

Talk about serendipity (sort of):
Just after I read your comment, I visited my friend Raminagrobis's blog, and in one of his comments on this post, Grobie says this:

So poetic fictions and lies/truth properly speaking have never occupied wholly separate ground. To go back further: when the ancient Greek poets invoked the Muses, it was as guarantors of the truth of the poem: that is, they guaranteed that what was said really happened, and was not just being made up by the poet. The Muses are the daughters of Memory, and Truth (a-letheia) is the absence of forgetting. (emphasis added)

This, of course, points in the direction of your question about the relationship between knowledge and truth (and, perhaps, wisdom as well). But in literate culture, it's, um, harder to forget since, because of writing, we don't have to remember everything (or, really, anything, if we don't want to). And while the preservation of knowledge is indeed a Good Thing, it complicates incredibly the (ancient Greek) notion of Truth as that which isn't forgotten.

More stuff to chew on.

Winston said...

Oohh. My head is indeed spinning from that. Seems I have unknowingly and inadvertently stuck a hornets nest with my forked stick, when all I was trying do do was divine the presence of the underground water stream of truth.

The passage you quoted is awesome, and my watchwords for the year will be:

Truth is the absence of forgetting.

Conrad said...

The a-letheia etymology was, incidentally, one of Heidegger's favourites. Only he went one step further and pointed out that 'letheia' is from the Greek verb 'lanthanein', "I lie hidden" (ultimately cognate with Latin lateo, whence "latent")--therefore the letheia is what is hidden, and the aletheia is what is uncovered from being hidden. He quoted it to death.